Thursday, March 31, 2011


The term "womanizer" has been used in two different conversations I've been involved in this past week, which made me start wondering, what's the female equivalent to a womanizer? I feel like I should know this...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signs death penalty repeal

Cultural Beauty Standards and Childhood

First of all, does every little girl want to be "like mommy" (defined here as wearing makeup and clothes), or do we just really want little girls to want to be "like mommy?" Sorta like we want them to spend their childhoods daydreaming about their wedding day and "being a mommy"... Second, note that being "baby-faced" enhances your shot at being a "superstar," and that being a superstar is something to aspire to. Third, what's the "magical age" for botox for children? How about never? Fourth, a quote from someone who's too young to have either wrinkles or boobs:
I check every night for wrinkles, when I see some I want more injections. They used to hurt, but now I don't cry that much. I also want a boob and nose job soon, so that I can be a star.
Finally, as the commenters in the video note, it's ridiculous that this girl (and her mother) think that boob jobs and botox will make you a star. But why wouldn't they think that?

Obviously the mom in this situation has some serious issues and she's placing a lot of crap on her daughter's very young shoulders. But just pointing at this mother with horror and disgust is a bit misleading and ultimately unhelpful. She's a product of our culture*, and if you've looked at celebrity culture lately, this is what makes a superstar, and it's never too early to start. It's reasonable for anyone who's uncritical and enamored of the celebrity dynamic and totally inundated by the messages that stream from popular media 24 hours a day to reach this conclusion. The more interesting questions are:
  • how do you help people become more critical in their consumption of popular media?
  • how do you go about making real changes in the steady stream of implicit messages about beauty and personal worth that are embedded in almost all of the media that we consume?

*A non-reflective, irresponsible product of our culture, of course, but still...

ETA: And I should say it's not just media and products that are aimed at adults either. This article highlights some really good examples of problematic marketing to children girls.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Help Ann Coulter Raise Money for Gay Rights

Sounds too good to be true, right? But in fact it isn't! Click here and get your pledge on to help Ann raise money. She'll probably be too overwhelmed to thank you for your support, but you'll know in your heart that your donation is much appreciated.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Abortion and Childbirth and Coercion

I'm sure by now you've heard about this:
SD governor signs bill requiring women to wait 72 hours for abortion, longest wait in nation
And while I've honestly been too tired/distracted/depressed by the predictability of the whole thing to blog about it, it did get me thinking about the common thread that runs through our cultural approach to childbirth and abortion and female decision-making altogether.

Proponents of legislation like this always yammer on about how they're trying to help women make better decisions. They're trying to prevent coercion. Get that? On the one hand if you were contemplating an abortion but decide not to do it after spending three days being shamed and harangued by the anti-choice folks who run crisis pregnancy centers, then that wasn't a coerced decision in this view. On the other hand, if you go ahead with the abortion after the three day wait and the forced visit to your mom's church a crisis pregnancy center, you won't have made a good decision. It was coerced. Of course, I'm not saying that women are never coerced into having an abortion, or that it's not a serious problem if they are. But claiming that you're trying to prevent coercion when what you're advocating for is forced exposure to a whole gamut of coercive rhetoric preceding a major life decision is so disingenuous that it would be laughable if the consequences weren't so sad.

So what does it really mean to make a "better" decision, and why do women need so much more help than men to make good decisions?

First we should note here that this legislation assumes that women who come in to get an abortion haven't already thought about this decision for three days, or possibly even longer. In the imaginations of the men who write legislation like this, what actual women in this situation do is
  1. take a pregnancy test
  2. grab their jacket and car keys
  3. head straight to the abortion clinic.
No time to even grab a snack or apply lipstick. There are no long serious talks with the boyfriend/husband/father of the baby or with close friends preceding the decision. There are no thoughtful pauses in the middle of the work day or school day or while driving the other kid(s) to daycare or doing homework or folding laundry or sitting in a meeting at work or making dinner or ... in which the possibility of raising a child, or the emotional/social cost of carrying a child and giving it up for adoption, is carefully weighed against the other projects/obligations/goals/dreams/hopes/burdens the woman might have in her life. No. Because in this imaginary world women aren't actual 3-dimensional characters living actual lives, and anyway lady brains don't work like that. Therefore women don't show up at abortion clinics having already gone through a decision-making process.

So ... obviously there's just going to be this fundamental disagreement on what counts as women making good decisions concerning their reproductive life. But I still think it's an important question. Maybe this is the better question: what are the cultural conditions that would allow for truly uncoerced reproductive choices? For instance, what if women were neither economically penalized for becoming mothers nor shamed for choosing abortion or a child-free life? What if teens had access to both reliable birth control and open and honest conversations about sex and sexual relationships and pregnancy with adults who were neither squicked out by nor turned on by the reality of their developing sexuality, instead of the pathetic mess of mixed and contradictory messages they currently receive from abstinence-only sex ed and the media? What if we moved away from our cultural commitment to the socially and economically isolated nuclear family and instead encouraged networks of friends and extended family members who shared in both the work and the rewards of raising children?

And thinking about the cultural conditions of mothering makes me realize the parallels between the rhetoric surrounding abortion and the rhetoric surrounding childbirth. Your OB tells you "you think you can just read up on the current research on birthing practices and then be prepared to make informed choices about how your birth will go, but you can't. Because I am the doctor and you are the patient and therefore I will tell you what's right for your body, and you will shut up and be a good (by which I mean passive and docile) patient." Legislators tell you "you think you understand pregnancy and conception, but really you don't, so you will shut up while I tell you what's happening inside your body and make you have unnecessary ultrasounds and listen to anti-choice rhetoric and withstand three days of shaming to make the choice you've already made, because you're not smart/mature/responsible enough to handle a choice like this on your own."

And beyond that, there's another deeply troubling feature of this latest legislation that few are talking about. And that has to do with the time and energy and economic resources it takes to access an abortion in most parts of a state like SD to begin with. If SD is like Wyoming in this regard, I'd bet that abortion clinics are already few and far between. Which means that if you don't live in the biggest city in SD (or possibly one of the cities), accessing abortion services involves traveling some distance. That means taking time off school or work, paying for gas, or finding someone to pay for gas, or finding someone who has a car who can help you out ... and driving to the clinic, however far away that may be. Then once you get there you have to undergo hours of counseling and have your ultrasound and make your trip to the crisis pregnancy center, etc. etc. etc., and then drive back home, however many hours that might take, and then three days later turn around and do it all again to get the actual abortion. And as you can see, this all works to place a clever series of obstacles in the paths of the women and girls who probably need an abortion the most. I mean, if you can't afford the gas money and lack supportive friends or family members and don't have sick leave to travel back and forth repeatedly and waste hours and hours of your time getting "counseling" how can you afford to have a baby? But as more and more obstacles are erected in the abortion path, these are the women and girls who will be having more unwanted babies.

You want to talk about choices and coercion? Let's do it. But let's drop the Orwellian doublespeak. War is not peace. Coercion is not free choice. If you want to claim that you stand for free choice and personal autonomy, then drop the condescending manipulative paternalistic bullshit, and let's start talking about the conditions of autonomy and good decision-making and supported choices. The catch is, before you can make that move, you have to alter your worldview to one in which women are capable of making informed decisions. And that's something I suspect you are incapable of. Prove me wrong.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Every society has the criminals it deserves."
---------------------Emma Goldman

-----------emma goldman

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Unfortunately you may have seen this story today: Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town, in which an 11 year-old girl wears makeup and grown-up clothes, practically forces as many as 18 boys and men to sexually assault her in an abandoned trailer, and then inflicts this terrible tragedy on the entire town by somehow causing video and images of these events to be circulated throughout her nice, innocent Texas town, ruining the lives of said boys and men, the poor dears.

At this point you'll probably need a margarita or two, and you'll probably want to sign this:
Tell the New York Times to Apologize for Blaming a Child for Her Gang Rape

Heaven help us.

ETA - read the NYT's response to widespread complaints about this article here: Gang Rape Story Lacked Balance

Quote of the Day

"...disease isn’t just biology. It’s a personal culture, shaped by stories, by people, by sexuality, by cities, by coincidences."
--------------------------Kayla Rachlin Small

Friday, March 4, 2011

Scylla and Charybdis - or - Female Sexuality American-style

My favorite Philosophy professor ever of all times would often start class with this phrase: let me tell you a story.

So...let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time there was a beautiful sea nymph named Scylla. Everything was all sunshine and rainbows for Scylla until one day Poseidon, the god of the sea fell in love with her. This angered his wife, Amphitrite, who poured a poison into the pool that Scylla bathed in. The poison turned her into a monstrous multi-headed (yet perky-breasted) creature who lurked forever after under the rocks in the Strait of Messina (between Sicily and Italy), nomming on sailors who steered too close to the rocks.


Once upon a time there was a beautiful sea nymph named Charybdis. She was the daughter of Poseidon and Gaia. Everything was all sunshine and rainbows for Charybdis until one day Zeus became angry with her. It seems that she habitually helped her father reclaim land from Zeus by riding the high waves Poseidon would stir up in his storms, consuming land and houses. For this Zeus turned her into a monstrous creature in the form of a whirlpool that lived in a cave across the Strait of Messina from Scylla. Three times a day the gaping hole (get it?) of Charybdis' whirlpool would open up and consume any sailors who steered too close to her cave.

Together Scylla and Charybdis created a terrible hazard for sailors passing through the Strait. If they steered too close to either monstrous female, they would be devoured.

There's a lot to be said about female sexuality and Scylla and Charybdis. In the ancient Greek worldview, women could endanger (in the male view) men in oh-so-many ways. They could endanger them by being beautiful and seductive, or by remaining loyal to another man. The simple act of being (or appearing to be) available to a man could bring down destruction on a woman. The simple act of being (or appearing to be) unavailable to a man could bring down destruction on a woman. And the hazard of both scenarios lent itself to this myth in which somehow the men had to find a way to navigate a careful path between the two dangers.

So here we are in America in 2011, and what could this have to do with us? Well....

When you have young daughters you suddenly become an especially keen observer of the forms female sexuality takes in our culture. No matter what message you try to convey to them, your voice is practically drowned out by the multitude of messages (both explicit and implicit) they're constantly exposed to. And as others have pointed out, there are basically two different ways to be a female sexual being in our culture. You can be the pornified sexual object who exists solely for the male gaze and to fulfill male desires but has no independent sexual desires of your own. The other option, of course, is to be the prudish gatekeeper required by the abstinence-only, purity types. This kind of sexual being also has no desires of her own, but only engages in sexual acts to please her man. Since she doesn't have the uncontrollable sexual desires that her male counterpart does, it's her job to "just say no." Of course these are extreme versions of the options available, but a survey of the images of female sexuality that are ubiquitous in our culture reveals that these are by far the most prevalent and powerful.

So these are the Scylla and Charybdis of contemporary modern female sexuality*. And somehow our daughters have to navigate a course through these hazards as they grow and explore their developing sexuality. They must not be too available to men. They must not be unavailable either. They must be pleasing and accomodating. They must not give in to male desire, thus defiling their pure bodies, but must charm and cajole men into being a "better" versions of themselves. On the other hand, they must not be too charming and accommodating or they might get themselves raped. And so it goes.

I wish I could believe it was possible for my girls to avoid this particular Strait of Messina altogether. I wish there was a way for them to navigate through calmer, less hazardous waters, as they grow and develop and learn about themselves and the world. I wish there was a place that was open yet safe, where female sexuality wasn't rigidly scripted, and girls could approach their sexuality free of guilt or shame or coercive cultural narratives, but with caution and respect for the power of sexual experiences. I wish, I wish, I wish....

*And even when female sexuality is portrayed as anything other than hetero, these paradigms still dominate. In the pornified version of female sexuality, lesbian desire is merely a performance for the male gaze, and in the purity version it's an unnatural perversion which one can learn to overcome.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Moral Bankruptcy

So, I recently had this conversation with a friend in which he kept using the term "morally bankrupt." He said (among other things) that his upbringing and immersion in the consumer, throw-away culture had left him morally bankrupt. And his implication was that this is the result for all of us, more or less.

Whether you agree with that point or not (after all, consumerism is just one aspect of our culture), the term "morally bankrupt" jumped out at me. Of course I've heard it many times before, but what exactly do we mean by it? Can a person be morally bankrupt? Is morality the kind of thing you can stock up on or save up, like in a bank account? Is it an asset that must be carefully balanced against liabilities to avoid bankruptcy? Obviously it's just a metaphor, but I think the metaphors we choose are really revealing. When we talk about greedy executives or corrupt politicians we almost always use the phrase "morally bankrupt," as if morality is quantitative like that. Maybe the problem is that we think of morality that way to begin with.